Pigeon colours

The first names

Names for colours in pigeons usually have little in common with the colour names in everyday life. The names should not and could not be more than a rough orientation. More than 100 years ago, the geneticist Cole had already noted this for the original colour blue: The blue of pigeons also has nothing in common with the blue of some exotic birds, it belonged more to the grey tones (Cole 1918). Bechstein had already felt this earlier. In 1807 he wrote of 'light greys' and 'dark ash greys' without it having any influence on subsequent literature. The latter possibly today's smoky or dirty blues. Also, under 'red' pigeon fanciers imagine something different than a master painter would. He would think of pigeon red as brown or bronze. White, black and yellow are more harmless.


Fig. 1: Blue Rock Pigeon, Black, (Recessive) Red and Yellow at Domestic Pigeons

Newcomers and outsiders will not be able to change much in terms that have been introduced, because they have burnt themselves deeply into the literature and the language of pigeon keepers over the centuries. For example, in his Ornithology, published in Latin in 1555 and in German in 1557, Gessner already wrote of blue, red, waxy yellow, mealy and sparrowhawk colours for domestic pigeons. In addition to white and black, various piebald colours were described, which Bechstein presents in 1807 in a very differentiated manner.

Names for exceptional colourings.

With the diffusion of domestic pigeon breeding and the diversification of the range of colours, there was also a need to emphasise colours that were considered exceptional. Buffon's colours in France in 1772 included among others fire colour, chestnut, walnut and hyacinth at Pouter (Pigeon Grosse Gorge) as ancestors of the today laced Cauchois. Boitard and Corbié additionally listed the peach-flower-coloured ones among the 'Pigeons Maillés', already removed from croppers in 1824. They also already recognised genetic connections. From the crossing of bronze-laced and white-laced pigeons, walnut-coloured ones are produced. The mating of these back to white-laced results, among others, in peached flower ones (p. 32). On the breed see Jürgen Schulz, Cauchois. Portrait of a French Breed Pigeon, German language, published by the Special Club 1987).


Fig. 2: Cauchois peach blossom coloured, bronze laced, at Buffon’s time fire coloured) and blue white laced (at Buffon’s time hyazinth)



Fig. 3: English Almond Tumbler (Eaton, J.M., A Treatise on the Art of Breeding and Managing the Almond Tumbler, London 1851), English Short-Faced Tumblers Kite and Rot Agate.

In the German-speaking world, 'Harlekins' was the name for variegated pigeon, some of which resembled the Almond Tumbler in England with a yellow-brown (almond) desired basic colouration. The black sprinkles and brightenings in the primaries and tail are typical for all of them. Tricolour was supposed to say something similar in old literature. Reds with white spots in the Almond breeding were given the name Agate after the often red and white gemstone, Kites as a second complementary colour were named after the black milan.

Isabell was so popular as a name that it was given to at least four gene combinations that are distinguished today. For a long time it was not known why the breeding results of some variants were so poor.

Lavender was a popular name. Tegetmeier (1868) used it, Fulton described self barless Ice Pigeons this way in 1876. Later the term briefly passed to khaki pigeons (Metzelaar 1928), and in English to (heterozygous) ash pigeons and light silver-grey Lahores (Levi 1969).

Fig. 4: Ice Pigeon Varieties at R. Fulton, The Illustrated Book of Pigeons, London, Paris, New York, Melbourne 1876.

The name gold was probably first claimed for gold gimpel-pigeon, copper for copper gimpel-pigeons, bronze as a synonym for the description of the body plumage of copper gimpels (Schachtzabel 1910).


Fig. 5: Gimpel Pigeons Blackwings Copper and Gold; Maltese Pigeon Gold (genetically different from Gimpel-Pigeons, the combination of homozygous recessive red and homozygous pale)

Naming of hereditary factors

Almond, Isabell, Lavender, Peach Blossom, etc., were intended to indicate similarities of the respective colour, independent of genetic considerations or commonalities with other colourings. In pigeon fancier circles before 1900 and shortly thereafter, nothing was known about hereditary factors that were responsible for the similarities of certain colourings. It was only with the spread of Mendelian thought that genetic 'codes' were searched for, for the combination of hereditary factors that produced this colouring, and in slightly different combinations, similar colourings. A puzzle, the solution of which made it easier to selectively breed colours.

Sprinkles - Stipper

For Almonds, the puzzle of sprinkling and the regular occurrence of white juvenile cocks in breeding was solved as early as 1925 by Christie and Wriedt. They did not intend to clarify the Almond colouration genetically, but to a large extent they did. They wanted to find the causes of sprinkling in domestic pigeons. For this purpose, they had not only analysed almonds in breeding trials, but also sprinkled grey stippers and other intermediate colourings. Danish Tumblers with the stipper gene (Staenkede), which originated from crosses with English almonds, were examined. Today there are Brown Stippers, Yellow Stippers and Grey Sippers in the standard terminology. Brown and yellow stippers correspond to a large extent to English almond Tumblers and partly to multicoloured Tumblers. As a result, all colourings were found to have a factor which, according to the findings, temporarily (in the heterozygous cocks and, sex-related, hemizygous females) or almost completely (in the homozygous cocks) restricts pigment formation or supply to the feathers (Hollander 1983). The homozygous Stipper-cocks are accompanied by health problems. Almonds are thus stippers in which the brown-yellow basic colouration is contributed by the genes of the already mentioned complementary colours kite (dark check and bronze) and agate (contribution of heterozygous recessive red). In the USA, the symbol St was adopted, derived from Staenkede. For a long time, however, the term ‘Almond factor’ was used, probably because most breeders were not aware of the other sprinkled colour strokes at that time. Even today, most breeders are not aware of the connections.

Fig. 6: Danish Tumblers tested by Christie and Wriedt. Source: Zur Genetik der gesprenkelten Haustaube. Zeitschrift für Induktive Abstammungs- und Vererbungslehre 38 (1925) in German language. Figures hite with black sprinkles at different age (1 and 2) and ‘light brown grey sprinkled’ (3 and 4) at different age.



Fig. 7: Danish Tumbler ‘Grey Stipper’ and Danish Tumblers ‘Brown Stipper’ from the author’s loft

Isabell - Dominant Opal

The puzzle of Isabell in the colouring of the Brünner and Saxon Pouter with an ideally cream-white ground colour, on which white bars were still visible, has occupied genetically interested breeders for more than a century. Mehlvin Ziehl had reported on his experiments and findings in the American Pigeon Journal in the 1970s. Essential for Isabell was, among other things, the factor Dominant Opal. With their genetically less complex light blue relatives, they have the white-yellow set-off wing bars or checks in common. The analysis was complicated by the fact that homozygous Dominant Opals in are lethal in both sexes. Once they emerged, they were white-grey and lived only a few weeks or month. Today we know that they are best bred with complementary colours. This also holds for other colorations with this gene.


Fig. 8: Brünner Pouter Isabell at G. Prütz, Illustrirtes Mustertaubenbuch, Hamburg o.J. (1885), Dominant Opal Check from the author’s loft

Silver (Lavender) – Milky

The term silver was already used in old literature for diluted blues. In Holland they wrote of blue-silver. These terms are still used in breeding circles today. At Lahore the silver-greys were already called silver (Lavalle and Lietze 1905, Schachtzabel 1910) before W.F. Hollander had found out that such a colouration can also be obtained by the hereditary factor Milky in interaction with the colour spread factor. "The reason for this foolish name ꟾmilkyꟾ was that the colour looked like a blue pigeon that had been soaked with in milk" (Hollander 1983, p. 61). A blue pigeon dipped in milk! Blue powder was the name for a while. With 'Spread Milky' the analogy to the milk pot seems far-fetched. In addition to these lavenders, there are heterozygous cocks for genetically ash-red/black ground colouring, showing the bluish hue of the flowers of some sorts of lavender plants.


Fig. 9: Indian Fantail milky bar, Lahore Silver (Lavender in the USA, genetically milky plus Spread at black base colour, at the right lavender Pomeranian Eye Crested Highflyer (heterozygous ash red/black plus Spread)

Rubella and Spread Rubella - Rubellan

The hereditary factor Rubellan was discovered by Dr. Gerhard Knopf in racing pigeons. Some of his pigeons resembled bar and check indigo. Somewhat more distantly they resembled bar and check recessive opal and also reduced coloureds with these patterns. However, the inheritance was different from indigo and recessive opal. It corresponded to that of Reduced. Compared to Rubella, the patterns were more intense. Later it turned out that the factors are alleles. In the colouring of the patterns, the discoverer of the novelty saw a similarity with the reddish mineral Rubellan. The reddish flower colour of the Rubella plant was not meant. After crosses with black, lighter and darker silver-grey spread rubellan are produced in pure-bred rubellan cocks and hemizygous females. Strikingly similar to the Spread Reduced, Spread Recessive Opal and also Spread Platinum. But at best little external connection to the namesake Rubellan.


Fig. 10: Rubella bar (young cock) and Spread-Rubella hen from the author’s loft.

Andalusian - Indigo

The naming of Andalusians follows a tortuous path. The hereditary factor 'indigo', on which the colouration is based, was not discovered in Spain or in Spanish pigeon breeds. Wendell M. Levi found and named 'Indigo' in the USA in the 1940s after crossing farm pigeons with racing homers. From white Carneau and blue racing homers there were some birds with a bluish, indigo-coloured rump. From this derived the name for the hereditary factor, indigo with the symbol In. When Spread was added by mating with blacks, Spread Indigo was created. As W.F. Hollander reported as a contemporary witness, Wendel M. Levi saw in it a similarity to the blue colour in the chicken breed 'Andalusian'. After imports from Spain, this breed had become popular in England and later also in other countries in the blue colour: 'The Blue Andalusian'. This is also written as title on the cover of a monograph about the breed, which was published in the 2nd edition under the pseudonym 'Silver Dun' in London in 1897. Blue in colour, the region Andalusia as origin. In the pigeons it becomes 'coloured like the chickens coming from Andalusia'. Like Rubellan, Indigo is an original racing pigeon colour, which only was identified late in pure-bred homer strains.


Fig. 11: Indigo check Racing Homer (heterozygous Indigo with check pattern and black base color from the author’s former racing strain); German Double-Crested Trumpeter Andalusian (heterozygous Indigo plus Spread at black base colour), Andalusian chicken colour, Source: Anonymous ‚Silver Dun‘, The Blue Andalusian, 2nd. ed. London 1897.


When considering the designations of colour varieties of domestic pigeons, one should not expect too strict scientific standards. They are suitable as a rough guide. Genetic aspects could not play a major role in the naming and classification of colourings in the beginning. Nevertheless, it is admirable how early classifications in Bechstein 1807, Prütz 1885 and in other writings tried to bring a system into the initial chaos. From the early naming of colourings such as Isabell (Dominant Opal), Hyacinth (factors of the Toy-Stencil complex), Lavender/Silver (Milky) or Almond (Stipper) one will not be able to deduce any clues to the hereditary factors involved according to today's knowledge or to colourings with strong genetic similarities.

A classification of colourings also encounters problems due to multiplicative relations. Isabell, for example, can be listed under Dominant Opal, it is at the same time Recessive Red and barred in the pattern systems. This understanding of colourations as a combination of hereditary factors is the key to understanding colour inheritance in pigeons. Currently re-promoted as a systematic and easy-to-understand introduction with accompanying exercises in three languages.


Fig. 12: Cover showing in symbols the mating of two pigeons with different genetic make-up in the genetic basic colour, the patterns checks and bars and the Spread facto. At the right gazzi blue bronze laced on the cover ‘Colourations in the Domestic Pigeon 2005’.

Combinations of factors will also result in colourings that no longer have much in common with the name of the hereditary factor. This is already evident in the book 'Pigeon Colouring' with more than 350 different colourings classified primarily according to hereditary factors. It is becoming apparent that in genetic explanations, the genetic constellation is increasingly mentioned when naming a colouration.


Anonymous ‚Silver Dun‘, The Blue Andalusian, 2nd. ed. London 1897.

Bechstein, Johann Matthäus, Gemeinnützige Naturgeschichte Deutschlands nach allen drey Rei­chen. Ein Hand­buch zur deutlichern und vollständigern Selbstbelehrung beson­ders für Forst­männer, Jugendlehrern und Oekono­men, Dritter Band, Mit Kupfern, Zweite vermehrte und ver­besserte Auflage, Leipzig 1807.

Boitard, Pierre, et Corbié, Les Pigeons de volière et de colombier ou histoire naturelle et mono­graphie des pi­geons domestiques, Paris 1824.

Christie, W. and Chr. Wriedt 1925, Zur Genetik der gesprenkelten Haustaube. Zeitschrift für Induktive Abstammungs- und Vererbungslehre 38 (1925), 271-306.

Cole, Leon J., The Blue Color in Pigeons, The Auk, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Jan., 1918), p. 105.

Eaton, J.M., A Treatise on the Art of Breeding and Managing the Almond Tumbler, London 1851.

Fulton, R., The Illustrated Book of Pigeons, London, Paris, New York, Melbourne 1876.

Gesner, Conrad, Vogelbuch. Darin die art/natur und eigenschafft aller vöglen / sampt jrer waren Contrafactur / angezeigt wirt: ... Erstlich durch doctor Conradt Geßner in Latein beschriben: neüwlich aber durch Rudolff Heüßlin mit fleyß in das Teütsch gebracht / und in ein kurtze ordnung gestelt, Getruckt zu Zürich bey Christoffel Froschouwer im Jar als man zalt M.D.LVII (1557).

Hollander, W.F., Origins and Excursions in Pigeon Genetics, Burrton, Kansas 1938.

Lavalle, A., und Lietze, M. (Hrsg.), Die Taubenrassen, Berlin 1905

Levi, W.M., The Pigeon. Sumter, South Carolina 1941, revised 1957, re­printed with minor changes and addi­tions 1963, reprinted 1969.

Prütz, G., Illustrirtes Mustertaubenbuch, Hamburg o.J. (1885).

Schachtzabel, E., Illustriertes Prachtwerk sämtlicher Tauben-Rassen, Würzburg o.J. (1910)

Schulz, Jürgen, Cauchois. Portrait einer französischen Rassetaube, herausgegeben vom SV Altendorf 1987

Sell, Axel and Jana, Taubenfärbung, Oertel und Spörer. Colourations in the Domestic Pigeon. Les Couleurs de Pigeon, Reutlingen 2005 (with summary in English and French, 176 pages).

Sell, Axel, Genetik der Taubenfärbungen, Achim 2015, 328 Seiten (German language).

Sell, Axel, Introduction to Heredity in Pigeon, Achim 2022 (80 pages plus 30 p. supplement exercises). Also Dutch and French.

Sell, Axel, Pigeon Genetics. Applied Genetics in the Domestic Pigeon, Achim 2012, 528 pages.